After 12 years, I had wracked up more than $100,000 in unsecured debt. Even at the worst points, I would blame the debt on my husband for not making enough money to support my spending, which absolutely wasn't true. It wasn't his fault; it was mine. I blamed a lot of people other than myself.

My shopping addiction turned me into an ugly person. A liar, a manipulator. I'd lie to my creditors and my husband, but in my mind I wasn't lying -- I was just being creative. I thought I was buying myself time to be able to pay the money back. But what was I thinking? I would have had to rob a bank to pay it all back.

Once I admitted to myself I had a shopping addiction, I was able to take a step back. I realized that who I am isn't measured by what I have or what I can buy. I had to realize materialistic things are the bane of my existence. I had to realize that I had a lot more control than I thought I had.

It took me 13 years to pay back more than $100,000 of unsecured debt, but I did it. To get back to point zero, I used a flow chart that I tucked into my wallet. I told myself I'd be adult enough to ask myself these questions before buying anything that costs more than $20: Do I need it? Do I need it today or can I wait? Do I already have something that would work just as well? If, say, it were an outfit for a party, I'd ask myself if I already have clothes I could wear to the occasion.

I used to be a mall rat; I'd go and just wander around. To change my habits, I started mapping out where I would go in the store to get what I needed. It was almost like I was putting on virtual blinders. I'd also park in front of the store, rather than just in the general parking lot. I'd walk in, buy what I needed, and walk straight out.

Talking about my addiction at first was hard -- very hard. It was difficult for me to admit it, then it was rewarding to be able to help others, but now that I've done it, I feel talking about it has helped me the most.

Avis Cardella, author of "Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict":

I think it started when I was in my mid-twenties, after my mother's untimely death in 1989. The store became a comfortable place for me. It reminded me of my mother, because I had gone shopping with her since I was a child. I also found I could displace my depression and transfer it to the product. I could get excited about seeing something, think it would make me happy or change my life, so I'd buy it. If a situation was difficult for me emotionally -- say, I was having a bad day or work wasn't going well or I was feeling lonely, I would end up running to a store.

I'd go into shops and fall into a trance -- into this kind of heightened shopping experience. I often felt excited, agitated, and even my palms got sweaty. I was somebody who loved to be in a retail environment. The whole idea of being around things and seeing them and touching them, it was a whole sensory experience.

I was always looking for shopping to be replenishing. When I felt empty inside, shopping was a temporary way to feel full again. I was a solitary shopper. I didn't want my friends to see me in that kind of environment. I was not somebody who enjoyed shopping with girlfriends. I saw shopping as an emotional, private moment for me.

I don't think I was able to carry on a romantic relationship during that time. I wasn't being honest about how I was spending my time or my money or what was really bothering me. I had a relationship where I had a boyfriend who started buying me things, and I ended it rather quickly because I saw it facilitating my shopping addiction and I didn't want that in my life.

It was extremely difficult to come to terms with the fact that my shopping addiction was basically a means of running away from something I had to face. I had to get at this from the root. One of the first things I did was acknowledge the connection between my shopping addiction and my grief over my mother's death.

I went to a credit-counseling program and eventually cleared up all my credit card debt. After that, my goal wasn't to just say, "Ok, I'm never going to shop again." Some people say they're going to cut up all their credit cards. I think it's easy to do that at first, but in the long term, you're not really getting at what it's all about.

I needed to relearn how to shop in a more mindful way, because I wanted to take back control and learn how to like shopping again. I had to realize it had gotten to the point where I actually hated shopping because I knew it was the source of a lot of anxiety and problems in my life.

Recovery wasn't easy. When I wanted to go shopping, I'd try to occupy my mind and my body in other ways. I would go outside and take long walks; I like to be around nature. The outdoors are a much healthier place for me than the mall. Being more "present" in the shopping environment took a lot of practice, patience, and time, but eventually I managed.

I can say honestly in the last 10 years I don't have a shopping problem. I've reclaimed my power over shopping and my self-esteem.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

More from U.S. News & World Report: